Greetings from Hereford Hills

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By the time I arrived, the sun had long ago sunk beneath the mountains and blanketed the valley in darkness. Ornate cast iron lamps flooded the station platform with golden halos of light and illuminated the few occupants standing out on that chilly November evening in a warm glow that dulled the rosy tints on their cheeks. At least it did for everyone except the stout, cheerful figure of Mrs. Waverly, whose wide smile and round face naturally lent itself to a bright and joyful red glow.

"Welcome Ms. Creeke! I hope you had a pleasant ride. Did you get to enjoy any of the fall color on your way here? Many of the leaves have fallen around town, but sometimes to the east there's...."

"Good evening Mrs. Waverly," I said, pretending not to hear her rambling question as I wheeled my suitcase over to her corner of the platform. "It's been a long day and a long train ride. So if it is okay with you, I'd really like to get right to business."

"Of course," she said, her smile failing to falter, though I noted the slight change in her tone. "I'll just need you to present me with the proper documentation to confirm your identity."

She walked me over to the station entryway, the long building designed more for decorative flair than functionality. A gabled roof extended about a foot past the building, with bronze ornaments running its perimeter and two chimney stacks on either end. Ruby red brick faced the walls and the large double door entrance was surrounded by thick, elegant trimming. Once inside two fireplaces roared with a semicircle of sofas and chairs around each. In the center of the wooden-clad room was a circular desk for ticket sales. In one corner a small coffee shop kiosk brewed espresso for bleary-eyed travelers and sporadically around the room were posters, brochures, and videos, all advertising the various attractions to be found in the small tourist town.

"Why don't we take a seat over by Emma's Coffee Stop? Would you like some coffee, tea, a hot cocoa?"

"I'd just like the will and the keys to the inn."

"Alrighty then," she said scooting along. "I'll be getting myself some tea."

I held back my impatience, reminding myself that she was the gatekeeper to my new piece of property and that tea takes all of seconds to get handed over.

I pulled up a seat at a small, circular table a couple feet from the kiosk and by the time I got situated, Saundra Waverly was already back with a steaming cup of tea clutched in her hand. Placing it aside to cool, she reviewed my driver's license and social security number, checking it against the information she had retrieved during her search for her client's missing grandniece. Finding I fit the bill, she handed my cards back to me and withdrew the coveted deed. After signing a few forms, she took a sip of her tea, smiled, and turned to face me.

"You sure you wouldn't like something from Emma's? She has a lovely blend of chamomile and cinnamon..."

"I still need the keys," I answered, uncertain she realized we were missing a crucial component to the transaction.

"Well I suppose you can have something warm at the inn too," she said taking another sip before gathering her briefcase and waving to the clerk at the store. "My car is just outside, it's not a long drive."

"I don't understand why you don't have them in the first place," I said, tempering the growl in my voice, my grandmother's stern words reminding me to practice patience. "I understand that the caretaker felt the need to continue on with his job, but since he isn't the owner, he shouldn't have been so hostile towards my appraiser."

"Well, he was to be in charge of the house until the deed passed to Georgina's heir," said Saundra with a raise of her brow. "It was in her will."

"Excuse me?" I asked as we drew up to a brown sedan that, though old, had been lovingly taken care of.

"In her will Georgina specified that Jordan Wells would be maintaining the estate and in possession of the inn's keys until you arrived to make claim of the property. She didn't want to have her customers' reservations lost when she died. So she had it written into the will that Jordan was to be in charge just to make sure it didn't fall into someone else's hands during the time it took us to find you. She had no idea where you were or how long it would take to get you here. It was all in the papers I sent you."

She stood by the driver's side, waiting for me to open my door before hopping in herself, but I stood there with a glazed look in my eye.

"I don't remember that," I mumbled. In all honesty, I hadn't read it.

"Well, you signed the paperwork agreeing to the will's intentions." She shrugged and looked at the car, waiting for me to get in.

With a sigh, I slumped into the seat, cursing my own incompetence.

As we drove through town, Saundra felt the need to point out the chocolatier, the handcrafted toys store, the post office, the library, the gift store, the ski supply store, and every other civic and/or tourist building in town. They all looked like dimly lit brick and wooden facades to me, so I leaned back into my headrest and closed my eyes, trying to tune her out. However, in order to ignore her, my ears had to grab onto something else. The only option I had was the sounds softly pouring from the radio. The music was low, but just high enough for the clatter of jingle bells to disrupt the purr of the car's engine every now and again. I couldn't believe there was Christmas music on already when Thanksgiving was still a day away. I sighed and returned my attention back to Mrs. Waverly's tour as we went a few more miles outside of town to where the inn sat upon a forested acreage.

"Here we are."

My eyes had glazed over at some point and it took a few blinks to clear them enough to register my surroundings. I looked out the window to find a long drive up a manicured lawn with thoughtfully placed trees and flower beds. A circular driveway encompassed a fountain while hedges lined a stone fence surrounding it. Cast iron lamps lit the space, though a few flood lights filled in the gaps they couldn't reach. The house itself was mostly lost to the night, but the bottom floor windows glowed a golden orange and several ceiling lights illuminated the expansive porch.

There, resting against the wooden handrail was a lean man with his face cast in shadow.

"The caretaker I presume," I muttered.

"That's Jordan, all right," answered Saundra with a cheerful chirp to her voice. "He's been the inn's handyman for about twelve years now. With his help, Georgina was able to get a lot of restoration done. I hope you'll continue to fix it up."

"Somebody will," I said, getting out of the car and moving to the trunk to retrieve my bags. By the time I pulled out my suitcase, the great and terrible Mr. Wells had made his way down the stairs and marched across the drive to greet us. That is if you consider being purple in the face with a snarl curling his lips to be a greeting.


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